Beethoven’s Biography: The Final Years 1825-1827

Beethoven's genus is curtailed at its height.

• Just as Beethoven’s creative genius goes into overdrive, so his personal appearance leaves a great deal to be desired. Incredibly, on one occasion, he is arrested and detained on suspicion of being a vagrant. 

• Beethoven’s servant reports that, “After breakfast Beethoven hurries outside to wander in the fields, calling, waving his arms about, moving slowly, then fast, then abruptly, stopping to scribble in his notebook.” 

• The final string quartets – Nos. 12-16 and the Grosse Fuge (1825-26) – achieve such harmonic daring and expressive modernity that they find no successors until Bartók’s six quartets some 100 years later. 

• Beethoven brings the wheel full circle with a final quartet in the same key as his first – F major – that suggests a new Classical concision. He succumbs to pneumonia and hydropsy on 26 March 1827. 

• According to a close friend, Beethoven’s last moments are dramatic: “His eyes opened and he lifted his right fist for several seconds… When his hand fell back he half closed his eyes. Not another word, not another heartbeat.” 

• The poet Franz Grillparzer’s oration for the funeral reflects that, “He withdrew from mankind and dwelt alone… But in the end his heart beat warm for all men. Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live to the end of time!”